Fantasy Football: Start Em'/Sit Em' Week 1
If you have ever played fantasy football before, you know that one lineup decision is often the difference between winning or losing. You don’t need to be told to start Christian McCaffrey or Dalvin Cook, but you always have to consider matchups and other scenarios for your non-stud starters and bench players when setting your lineup every week. It is tough to gauge matchups and volume for players ahead of Week 1, but now that the preseason and roster cuts are over, we have somewhat of an idea about what we will see in the first week of games. With that being said, here is who you should start and who you may want to leave on the bench in the first week of fantasy.
Jalen Hurts is a must-play against the Falcons this week. Last year, the Atlanta defense ranked 29th in the league in yards allowed per game and dead last in passing yards allowed per game, and the organization failed to make any significant improvements to that unit this past offseason. Atlanta also allowed more fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks than any other team last season. You know Hurts is going to get you a nice chunk of points on the ground, and he should have at least a solid game through the air as well against this lackluster Atlanta defense. Hurts should be able to put up a big fantasy performance in Week 1. He should be started in most, if not all leagues.
The Houston Texans are expected by many to be the worst team in football this year. Their defense last year ranked 30th in the league in yards allowed per game while also allowing 29 points per game, which ranked 27th in the league. J.J. Watt is now in Arizona. Trevor Lawrence has some solid weapons to work with in D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones Jr., Laviska Shenault, and James Robinson. Expect this year’s number one overall draft pick to put up very nice fantasy numbers against a lousy team in his debut.
Joe Burrow is likely to put up excellent numbers in his first game back from last year’s torn ACL injury. Although they made a few additions this offseason, the Minnesota Vikings were statistically one of the league’s worst defenses last season, ranking 27th in the league in yards allowed per game, 25th in passing yards allowed per game, and 29th in points allowed per game. Cincinnati may also be playing from behind in this game, which would bode well for Burrow’s passing numbers. Burrow is a great play this week if you do not own one of the better quarterbacks.
Sleeper of the week: Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers vs. New York Jets Darnold has the potential to put up a big Week 1 performance against his former team. The Jets ranked 28th in the league last season against the pass, and their defense allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. New York is even thinner this year at the cornerback position, as multiple starters are being replaced by rookies drafted in the fifth round or later. Darnold has a few great weapons in D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Christian McCaffrey. Do not be surprised if they help get Darnold to a top ten Week 1 fantasy performance against the inexperienced New York secondary.
Justin Herbert is excellent, but you may want to stay away from him this week in fantasy. Washington’s defense is legit and has the potential to be scary. Led by 2020 NFL defensive rookie of the year Chase Young, Washington is coming off a season in which their defense ranked second in yards allowed per game, second in passing yards allowed per game, and fourth in points allowed per game. They also allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks last season. Although Herbert projects to have a great fantasy season, fantasy owners might want to be hesitant to play signal callers against this Washington defense this year. With Herbert facing Washington on the road, you should not feel comfortable having him as your fantasy quarterback in Week 1.
Several red flags are surrounding Prescott in Week 1. First of all, it is never a positive to be playing against a defending world champion defense returning all of its starters. The Tampa Bay defense was dominant late last year, and it is going to be a tough matchup for Prescott making his first start after the Achilles injury. There is also a big question mark regarding the status of Prescott’s shoulder, which he injured at the beginning of camp. All pro lineman Zack Martin is likely to miss the game as well. There are too many red flags with this matchup and with injuries for Dak Prescott to be a viable starting fantasy quarterback in Week 1.
Another tough matchup here. The Bears have had one of the league’s best defenses over the last few seasons, and the core of that defense is still there. The unit allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks last season. Stafford and the Rams are also heavily favored in this game, and they will likely try and take the air out of the football if they get out to a substantial lead. If Stafford puts up a decent fantasy week, he will likely have to throw for multiple touchdowns early on, and that is not something you can bank on. Stafford should be avoided this week in fantasy unless there are no other viable options.
The Gus Bus needs to be in your lineup in Week 1 if you own him. Ravens running backs J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill just went down with season-ending injuries, leaving Edwards as the clear bell-cow back for the time being. Baltimore is also banged up at wide receiver right now and will likely rely heavily on the run early this year. Edwards is also facing a Raiders defense that allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs last season. The Ravens are favored in this game as well. Edwards has a solid chance to get in the endzone at least once and will surely see plenty of work if Baltimore gets out to a lead. All signs point to Edwards having a big week in Week 1; he is a must-play.
Another very favorable matchup here. The Detroit Lions defense allowed the fifth-most rushing yards per game last season and allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. Mostert is atop San Francisco’s depth chart at running back as the season begins, and we know how much Kyle Shannahan loves to run the ball. The 49ers are also heavily favored in this game, meaning Mostert should see plenty of carries and should have a decent chance to get in the endzone as well. Mostert should be in your lineup in Week 1 with this optimal matchup.
We finally get to see what Chase Edmonds can do as Arizona’s true RB1, and he has a favorable matchup in Week 1 in Tennessee. The Titans’ defense allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing running backs last season and allowed the fifth-most yards per game to opposing offenses. Edmonds played a pivotal role in the passing game last season, and with Kenyan Drake now gone, Edmonds is set to become a focal point on the ground as well. This is a high-powered Arizona offense, and you know Kyler Murray will get Edmonds his share of receptions. There is a lot of upside for him to have a big Week 1 performance in a game where a lot of points are expected to be scored. Edmonds is an excellent play at RB2 or flex this week.
Sermon is currently second to Raheem Mostert on the 49ers running back depth chart, but he still could be worth a play in Week 1. Sermon, a rookie, is a third-round pick out of Ohio State and figures to play a role in the San Francisco backfield this season. In a very favorable matchup against the subpar Detroit defense, Sermon has a chance to put up some numbers and maybe even get into the endzone. This is a game in which many expect the 49ers to win easily and put up many points - another positive for Sermon. While you never know what you will get from rookies in Week 1, Sermon has potential for a solid week and is worth consideration as a flex play.
A very tough matchup here for a player with some upside this season. The San Francisco defense finished in the top seven against the run last year and allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs. That defense will be getting stud defensive end Nick Bosa back as well, who missed almost all of last year. The Lions are expected to be one of the league’s worst teams this season, and it is hard to see them putting up many points on the San Francisco defense on Sunday. It is also hard to see them running the ball a ton as they are likely to be losing. None of this bodes well for Swift this week. Fantasy owners should sit him out in Week 1.
It will be a very tough matchup for Montgomery in Week 1 against the stout Rams defensive front led by the freak of nature known as Aaron Donald. The Los Angeles defense was third in the league against the run last year and allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs. It would be surprising to see the Chicago offense get much going against the Rams defense in this game. Montgomery does not have a great chance to score in Week 1 and is doubtful to put up big numbers. Look for a different option this week at running back if you can.
The one bright spot on the Atlanta Falcons defense is the interior of their defensive line led by standout defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. Atlanta gave up the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs last season and gave up the sixth-fewest rushing yards per game. Nobody is raving about the Eagles’ offense this year, either. It may be wise to go in a different direction if you are thinking about starting Miles Sanders against Atlanta this week.
Coming off a season in which he posted 95 catches for nearly 1100 yards, Robby Anderson is reunited with his former quarterback Sam Darnold. Anderson had 88 grabs for 1353 yards in 25 games with Darnold, and you have to think the two former Jets have had this Week 1 game circled on their calendars for months. As mentioned earlier, the Jets are very thin at cornerback and are expected to start multiple rookies. Darnold and Anderson connected on several deep touchdowns in their days in New York, and it would not be surprising to see that happen on Sunday. Nevertheless, expect a big game from Anderson against these inexperienced New York corners. He is a solid play at WR2 and a fantastic play at WR3 or flex this week.
The Bengals will be very happy to have the Burrow/Higgins connection back after both players had their seasons cut short due to injury last year. Higgins tallied 43 catches for 629 yards and four touchdowns in the ten games he played with Burrow. The Vikings’ defense also allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing receivers last season. With Cincinnati potentially playing from behind in this game, they should be throwing the ball plenty, and Tee Higgins projects to have a fantastic day with that in mind against the lackluster Minnesota secondary. Comfortably slot him into your WR2, WR3, or flex spot this week.
It is no secret that the Cowboys’ defense was horrendous last season. They gave up the second-most fantasy points to opposing receivers last year. Antonio Brown is being undervalued in fantasy this year, perhaps because he only played eight games last season, but in those eight games, Brown reeled in 45 grabs for 483 yards and four scores. That’s 90 grabs and nearly 1000 yards with eight scores on a 16 game pace. Brown is still a tremendous wideout, and while he may be the third option, he has a highly favorable Week 1 matchup and should be trusted to put up fantasy points. Start AB if you have a spot for him in Week 1.
Marvin Jones quietly put up 76 catches for 978 yards and nine touchdowns in Detroit last season. He has been one of the more reliable receivers in football over the last half-decade or so, and he will be going up against a poor defense in his debut with the Jaguars. It would not be surprising to see the rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence lean on the veteran Jones in Week 1. Jones could end up having a big day against a subpar defense and is worth consideration as a flex play in Week 1.
Fantasy owners may want to wait a week or two before slotting Odell Beckham Jr. into their lineups. Beckham Jr. is coming off a torn ACL injury, a challenging injury for receivers to come back from. It would be wise to wait and see how Beckham Jr. fares on that ACL in Week 1 before playing him in fantasy. We do not know if he will see limited playing time or not, so why risk starting Beckham Jr. Week 1 in a receiver-rich fantasy season? The Kansas City defense also let up the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing receivers last year. We also know that Browns coach Kevin Stefanski loves to run the ball and center his offense around the run. There are too many reasons not to start Beckham Jr. for the risks to outweigh the reward here. Find another option if you plan to have OBJ in your fantasy lineup in the first week of the season.
It will be a tough Week 1 matchup for the Steelers passing attack as they face a tremendous Bills secondary led by all-pro cornerback Tre’Davious White. White is likely to line up across from Smith-Schuster for the majority of the game, making Smith-Schuster’s life very difficult on Sunday. It is not in Smith Schuster’s favor either that the Buffalo defense allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing receivers last season. Smith-Schuster is not a great play in Week 1 and should be left on your bench unless you are very, very thin at receiver.
The rookie first-round pick out of LSU certainly has tremendous potential, but it would be wise to stay away from him in fantasy until we see Chase have some success on an NFL field. While this is a favorable matchup for the Bengals passing attack, Chase has struggled mightily in camp and in the preseason with dropped passes. Given that Cincinnati has two other fine receivers in Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, fantasy owners should wait and see if Chase’s performance in camp and the preseason carries over to the regular season before putting him in lineups.
Dallas Goedert has become the go-to tight end in the passing game for the Eagles over the last couple of seasons, and he has a great Week 1 matchup against Atlanta, who gave up the third-most fantasy points to tight ends last season. The Eagles are very young and thin at wide receiver, which means Jalen Hurts will likely lean heavily on Goedert in the passing game, especially early in the season. Goedert is set up for an excellent Week 1 showing and should be started in all leagues unless you have one of the top six tight ends.
Thomas had a breakout season last year in Washington, putting up 670 yards on 72 catches while scoring six times. Thomas looks to have an even better year this year with Ryan Fitzpatrick providing stability at the quarterback position. Thomas has a favorable matchup in Week 1, as the Chargers allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends last season. Expect Thomas to be leaned on heavily again this season. He is an excellent play for fantasy in Week 1 against the Chargers.
With Jared Goff last season, Tyler Higbee put up a respectable stat line of 44 catches, 521 yards, and five touchdown grabs. With a much better quarterback and Gerald Everett in Seattle, Higbee’s numbers should look a lot more like they did in 2019 when he reeled in 69 balls for 734 yards. With Stafford now in Los Angeles, we could see Higbee’s numbers turn out even better than his 2019 numbers. Higbee has a lovely Week 1 matchup against Chicago, who allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends last season. He is a great play this week if you do not own a top tight end.
was a bit of a letdown for Cleveland last year, but he still was able to, in 13 games, catch 46 balls and put up four touchdowns, three of which came in his previous five games. Hooper has a definitive role in Cleveland’s passing attack and could end up having a solid Week 1 performance against a Chiefs defense that gave up the ninth most fantasy points to opposing tight ends last year. Hooper could be worth a start in Week 1 in 12+ team leagues.
Gesicki had a productive year for Miami in 2020, but he has a very tough matchup in Week 1 of 2021. Bill Belichick usually gameplans very well for opposing tight ends, and his defense gave up the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends last season. When Gesicki went up against New England last season, he had just three receptions for 30 yards and no touchdowns. Gesicki has a lot of upside this year, but he should be left on your bench in Week 1.
Smith had a great year in Tennessee last season, but his fantasy production looks to regress this year as he goes to a rookie quarterback and joins an offense that also brought in talented tight end Hunter Henry. There will not be a ton of volume for Smith in fantasy this year playing alongside Henry, and he has a tough matchup in Week 1, as Miami allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends last season. There will be weeks when you want to exploit the matchup and put Smith in your lineup, but this week is not one of them.
Everett could have an outstanding season in Seattle this year, but there are plenty of better options at the position in Week 1. Perhaps you want to wait and see how big of a role Everett will have in this offense before you trust him in your fantasy lineup. Indianapolis was also great against the tight end last year, allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends. It was a solid value pick if you scooped up Everett towards the end of your draft, but leave him on the bench until we see him start to produce in this offense.
Well, there you have it. Sometimes in fantasy football, you just have to play the matchups. It can be a hard thing to do because it is tough on the eye to have your fifth-round pick on the bench, but if he has a bad matchup, it may be the right decision. Good luck to everyone in fantasy football this week - let’s all enjoy this first week of football.
Hundreds of prospects ranked and updated throughout the season. Stay updated on all the NFL Draft eligible players and where they could go in the draft.
Check out the latest and greatest, most up-to-date, fantasy football rankings. No one has the most comprehensive and accurate rankings when it comes to fantasy football than the NFL Draft Bible.